Cast aside visions of hemp-clad, finger-clicking spoken word events. This is Polarbear, the breakthrough wonderboy at the heart of the spoken word renaissance currently taking place throughout London – and beyond. Old Me is Polarbear’s third full length performance, following Return and If I Cover My Nose You Can’t See Me, perfectly at home in The Roundhouse’s intimate Studio Theatre.
Born and bred in Birmingham, Polarbear emerged as a construction worker without a notepad, resorting to writing his words on pieces of sandpaper. But his ambition and passion for the rhythms and patterns of words led him down the M1 to London to pursue his dream of becoming the artist we see standing, relaxed and at ease down south, in front of us.
His portrayal of japes with his friends on the building site sees him so comfortably slip back into his ‘pre-Polarbear’ mannerisms but then you soon realise that it is not so much him slipping back but rather that part of him never left. Old Me is autobiographical performance at its best, close up and close to the bone, Polarbear tells his story through hilarious yet touching anecdotes from growing-up with his nan in Birmingham, impressing the girl next door with kung fu moves to becoming a father himself.
The overriding theme of Old Me is his becoming a father, particularly the concept of adults only being qualified to teach our children how to be a grown-up once we are finished growing-up ourselves, but he will always be a big kid. Bounding around the stage, playing with the scaffolding set, it’s clear that his inner kid is still very much present and only fuels his adult self on.
This is cut and paste storytelling, tied together by refrains echoing the different defining aspects and moments of his life such as ‘Chris Moyles said something unfunny’ as he listened to the radio on the building site. But perhaps the most poignant phrase is the simple, ‘I can feel my blood’, encompassing the power of words to invoke almost guttural emotion. Echoed through the performance, these understated repetitions work to illustrate Polarbear’s lyricism and iambic prowess, propelling him from a mate telling a story to an artist performing a piece of art.
Moving to the beat of his own voice, the pulse of the lights as he provides soft melodies to the live accompaniment from David Marcus Clark, Polarbear is as engaged with himself as a performer as he is with his audience. While the Old Him is certainly a lifetime away, he is by no means forgotten and ever present in the influence his past has on his work and development as an artist. Old Me is a testament to the power of storytelling, and in a time where tales are told through moving images on replaceable technology, Polarbear paves the way for a new approach to an old tradition.
Old Me is running until Saturday 3 December at:
Chalk Farm Road
Tel: 0844 482 8008
Photo: Idil Sukan